Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
REDEEMED PEOPLE ARE GENEROUS IN GIVING
110. Q. What does God forbid in the eighth commandment?
A. God forbids not only outright theft and robbery but also such wicked schemes and devices as false weights and measures, deceptive merchandising, counterfeit money, and usury; we must not defraud our neighbour in any way, whether by force or by show of right. In addition God forbids all greed and all abuse or squandering of His gifts.
 Ex. 22:1; I Cor. 5:9, 10; 6:9, 10.  Deut. 25:13-16; Ps. 15:5; Prov. 11:1; 12:22; Ezek. 45:9-12; Luke 6:35.  Mic. 6:9-11; Luke 3:14; James 5:1-6.  Luke 12:15; Eph. 5:5.  Prov. 21:20; 23:20, 21; Luke 16:10-13.
111. Q. What does God require of you in this commandment?
A. I must promote my neighbour's good wherever I can and may, deal with him as I would like others to deal with me, and work faithfully so that I may be able to give to those in need.
 Is. 58:5-10; Matt. 7:12; Gal. 6:9, 10; Eph. 4:28.
I Timothy 6:1-10
II Corinthians 8:1-15
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Psalm 41:1 & Hymn 52:1,3
Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!
With Lordís Day 42 the church summarizes what the Lord forbids and requires in the eighth commandment. We just confessed it together. But what do you think, beloved, of the sentence on the top of pg 522 of the Book of Praise. We confess there that "God forbids all greed and all abuse or squandering of His gifts." Can you, brothers and sisters, give me some examples of what "abuse or squandering" might be? What do you think:
Just what is "abuse or squandering of His gifts"?
The question is difficult because weíre invariably tainted by the society in which we live. Our society is very materialistic. That is, our society puts considerable emphasis on having material possessions, insisting those possessions are your own, and encouraging you to enjoy them to the full. Weíre expected to keep up with the neighbor, like him to have the latest and the best. Thatís our society, thatís materialism. We for our part get caught up in this way of thinking too, so that we consider our possessions our own, and itís fixed in our minds that weíre to enjoy them too.
In light of this materialism of our society, what should we make of the last part of A 111? I quote: "I must Ö work faithfully so thatÖ" Ė and no, it does not say "so that I can buy the car Iíve got my eye on," and it doesnít say either "so that I can retire in comfort," or "so that I can afford my next weekend out." Rather, the Catechism summarizes the Word of God like this, "I must Ö work faithfully so that I may be able to give to those in need." The critical word here is "give". And our Lordís Day mentions this in connection with the 8th commandment Ė the implication being that when I keep things to myself Iím guilty of sin against Godís commandment not to steal.
It raises questions for us. Our society insists thatís whatís yours is yours, what you labored for you may enjoy. But in our Lordís Day we confess that God would us to "give". If we donít "give", do we then "abuse or squander" Godís gifts?
We understand: this Lordís Day cuts close to the bone, for we quite enjoy the luxuries our society offers us. So we need to open the Scripture to see what our Lord has taught us on the matter.
I summarize the sermon with this theme:
GODíS REDEEMED PEOPLE ARE GENEROUS IN GIVING.
1. Who owns all
Whose are the shoes, brothers and sisters, that you have on your feet this afternoon? Who owns the car, the bike, the stereo system, the house you have? By the law of the land, you own it. And so it is. But the Lord teaches us in His Word that that is not the full truth.
The Lord God once created the world. That reality in turn means that He is the Owner of all. So David in Ps 24 says, "The earth is the Lordís, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell therein" (vs 1). Asaph repeats the point in Ps 50; the Mighty One, God the Lord, says that "the world is Mine, and all its fullness" (vs 12). The point is clear: the world, with every last bit and piece within it, belongs to God. That is why I say that your car, your bike, your stereo system, your house is ultimately not yours but the Lordís.
What, though, did God do with His possessions? David says in Ps 8 that
"You have made [man] to have dominion over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
All sheep and oxenó
Even the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air,
And the fish of the seaÖ" (vss 6ff).
Hereís the confession, congregation, that the Lord has made the human race master over Godís handiwork. All things are put under manís feet, including the animals, the birds, the fish, indeed, all things in all creation. God has given it all to man.
Yet itís not so that God has given all things to everybody, as if God encourages some sort of communist system where there is no private property. Rather, God has given some things to each person. Take, for example, Israel in the Promised Land. God did not just give to all the people the whole land, and thatís it; no, He gave to each Israelite his own acreage. Yet the acreage God gave did not become the property of the individual, so that he could do with it what he wanted. God gave the land to the people, but made it plain to Israel that the land ultimately remained His. He said, for example, in Lev 25:23: "The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine" (cf II Chron 7:20).
When we speak of ownership, then, congregation, we have to speak of two aspects. The first is that all the world belongs to God, including the shoes on our feet, the vehicles in the car park, the beds in our homes, and the contents of our bank accounts. The second aspect is that the supreme Owner of all has given these shoes, these vehicles, beds, money to certain persons. Those two aspects together means that before God we are not owners of our property, but are rather stewards of property that belongs to God, property that He has entrusted to us. I realize that the word Ďstewardí is not used commonly in our society anymore. But I use it this afternoon on purpose, because the word is found in the Bible to give expression to a notion fundamental to the Biblical teaching on property, and that is that we are responsible for property belonging to another. More, since we are responsible for property belonging to another, we have to give account to the Owner of what we have done with His possessions. Those soccer boots, that petrol, that cheque: we need to answer the question of whether we used it in a manner pleasing to its Owner, pleasing to the God of gods and King of kings.
That brings us to our second point:
2. How God wants us to use His property
God, I said earlier, has given certain things to each person. Normally He gives parts of His possessions to us through our diligent work, our wheeling and dealing. So He grants that the one becomes wealthy, while the other is not.
We need to understand first that it is not wrong to be wealthy. Job, for example, was a wealthy man, and so was Abraham. In fact, even after Job lost everything, God so blessed him that he became a very wealthy man again. That persons today are wealthy is quite in keeping with Godís revealed will.
A different matter, though, is whether one wants to be wealthy, pursues wealth as a goal. Is it good to sweat and scheme in order to achieve the goal of having a luxurious house, the latest car? On that point, congregation, the picture the Bible gives is: No, the Lord is not pleased with the pursuit of wealth. I think of the words of Agur in Prov 30. He says to God,
"Give me neither poverty nor richesó
Feed me with the food allotted to me;
Lest I be full and deny You,
And say, "Who is the Lord?"
Or lest I be poor and steal,
And profane the name of my God" (vss 8f).
Notice Agurís argument: poverty would prompt him to steal and therefore profane Godís name, and we can understand that. But riches, he adds, give equal temptation. To be full, rich, can lead to denying God, thinking I donít need God. Let us be honest with ourselves, beloved. We confess in Lordís Day 23 that though we are for Christís sake righteous before God, we are "still inclined to all evil." Then I read in I Tim 6: "those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare" (vs 9). That is, there is something about money and riches that forms a huge temptation, a snare for us, and itís a temptation we havenít got the wherewithal to resist Ė simply because we are "still inclined to all evil." Itís in us to love that money, and thatís why the apostle adds, "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil" (vs 10). Here the Lord gives us a warning; much as we find wealth attractive, our inclination to sin must make us wary of pursuing wealth.
In fact, the Biblical picture goes just the other way. Instead of looking to accumulate possessions, the Bible applauds sharing, being generous, even giving possessions away. In the course of his conversations with his friends, Job reflected on how things were before his afflictions. He says,
" I delivered the poor who cried out,
The fatherless and the one who had no helperÖ.
And I caused the widowís heart to sing for joyÖ.
I was eyes to the blind,
And I was feet to the lame.
I was a father to the poor" (29:12ff; cf 31:16ff).
Thatís to say: wealthy Job did not keep his riches to himself, but readily and generously gave to those around him who needed some assistance. What Job did as an individual, David expands into a truism for all people. Ps 37:
"The wicked borrows and does not repay,
But the righteous shows mercy and gives" (vs 21).
Notice his formulation: "the righteous Ö gives," and that means nothing else than that righteous people in general, all who are righteous before God, make it their business to give. Ps 112 also casts the matter into very general terms; the wealthy person who fears the Lord "is gracious, and full of compassion, and Ö deals graciously and lends" (vs 4f). In fact, this was the command that the Lord gave His people at Mt Sinai. This nation of redeemed slaves had to share readily, cheerfully, with the poorer in their midst. They were not to live as islands to themselves, hogging for themselves whatever their crops may produce, but Ėlike Boaz- had to give cheerfully to those who had little.
In the days of our Lord Jesus Christ this instruction from the Old Testament was worked out in very concrete applications. Two examples. Zacchaeus the "chief tax collector" had managed to collect wealth; Luke says he was "rich" (19:2). But the day came when that little man received salvation in Jesus Christ (19:9). Zacchaeusí response? "Look, Lord," he said, "I give half of my goods to the poor." Why, beloved? Why would Zacchaeus now intend to give half his wealth away?
A second example. The book of Acts tells us what mindset characterized those who were filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. I read, "Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need" (Acts 2:44f). Some time later we read, "all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostlesí feet" (4:34f). Why, congregation? These people had been working for years, and slowly but surely had accumulated adequate to buy a block of land, then to build house, then a second. And now, quite suddenly, theyíre willing to slap a For Sale sign on their extra property, and then donít bring the proceeds of the sale to some investment agency; no, they give it away, bring it to the apostles for distribution. Why?! And why now?
The answer lies in the words of the apostle to the Corinthians. Itís not that the Corinthian Christians were rich. But there was a need in far-off Jerusalem. So Paul seeks to encourage the Corinthians to give for the benefit of their brethren far away. How does he encourage them to give? No, he doesnít give a command. He says in vs 8: "I speak not by commandment, but I am testing the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others." Love: itís for the Christian to reflect the love that God has shown to him. And what love has God shown to the Corinthians? Vs 9:
"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich."
Thatís love! Christ "was rich," says the apostle, and the reference is to glory which Christ had in heaven with the Father from all eternity; in Godís presence He was "rich". But "He became poor", that is, He gave all that wealth and glory of heaven away, He emptied Himself to take a place on this sin-filled earth. And no, the place He took for Himself on this earth was not a royal palace, or a crib fit for a king; He was content to be wrapped in swaddling clothes and have a feeding trough for a bed. From riches to rags, literally! Yet even that wasnít all, for 33 years later He gave Himself to the agony and shame of the cross; He took the sins of the cursed upon Himself so that the curse we deserve might be poured out on Him. Rich He was in the presence of the Father, but poor He became in as much as His Father cursed Him, rejected Him!
And why that self-emptying? Says Paul to the Corinthians, "that you through His poverty might become rich." Those Corinthians were by nature dead in sin, subject to the eternal wrath of God Ė talk about poor! But because of Christís sacrifice these Corinthians became rich, infinitely rich; God made them children of God, heirs of God! So theyíd be kings with the triumphant Christ, permitted to rule with Him over all creatures! Talk about moving from rags to riches! And itís all undeserved; itís a display of the love of God!
That love, congregation, is the argument Paul uses to encourage the Corinthian saints to give, give for the unknown poor in far-off Jerusalem. Their gratitude for what Christ has done for them should prompt them to follow Christís example of love as much as they can. No, they canít give up their lives for the people of Jerusalem. But they can give up some of wealth, some of their comforts in order to help the other. It is simply the obvious, normal thing for the Christian to do.
There, beloved, you have the reason why Zacchaeus, when salvation came to his house, determined to give generously to the poor Ė even half of his property. There you also have the reason why the believers directly after Pentecost were willing to sell their extra property for the benefit of the poor. Though they may have been rich in earthly terms beforehand, now Zacchaeus and these Christians of Pentecost understood what true wealth was. To be forgiven of sins, to be children of God, to be heirs of life with the Creator of heaven and earth and His Son Jesus Christ: no material wealth in all the world comes anywhere near that, nor does any pleasure money can buy! Solomon could have his palaces, but Zacchaeus now realized that he was richer, much richer than Solomonís earthly possessions ever made him. Rose Porteus may have her mansion in Mosman Park, but the saints of God Ėwhether those of Pentecost or those of today- are far, far richer than her earthly wealth can ever amount to! For all must stand one day before the judgment seat of God Most High, and everyoneís hands shall be equally empty Ė no matter how loaded one was on earth. And when Christ comes back on the Last Day, everything on this earth will be burned up Ė including the biggest mansions and most fireproof safes of the worldís richest people. Ultimately wealth is found only in the blood of Jesus Christ, and thatís a wealth that never perishes.
Shall the saints of God, then, hoard money for themselves? Shall we insist on a second house, or a third? Sweat and plot to establish a big acreage? The saints of Pentecost understood: this will not do! The example of Job in giving freely to the poor, the description of David where he says that the righteous generously give it away, the injunction of Proverbs to "show mercy and give" Ė these became instructions for the saints of the New Testament church. No, Paul does not give a command to the Corinthians to give this much or that. But the example of the Lord Jesus, how He gave up everything so that the dead-in-sin may have life, provided the model to follow. The Corinthians would show their love for God by their willingness to give, to give liberally.
Paul gave no command. But James is moved by the Holy Spirit to write this: "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble" (1:27). We realize readily enough that Jamesí point is not that the godly are to visit the widow and orphan for a cup of coffee and social chat, and nothing more. He speaks about visiting "in their trouble," and his point is surely that believers show their love for God by helping the widow and orphan, supplying them whatever they need according to the means available. Giving to the widow and orphan, to the poor and hungry is the command of the Lord. It was His command in the Old Testament, and so itís the example of our Lord and Savior in the New Testament.
Give all this material, brothers and sisters, we can understand why our Catechism is formulated as it is. We summarize Scripture to teach in the eighth commandment that "I must promote my neighborís good wherever I can and may, deal with him as I would have others deal with me, and work faithfully so that I may be able to give to those in need." Sharing, generous giving: thatís the example of Christ on Calvary; He gave up the riches of heaven for the poverty of Calvary so that we might be rich. Keeping things for myself, hoarding up treasures for my own comfort: that is transgression against the eighth commandment, sin before God the Savior.
Can you, brothers and sisters, older and younger, think of truly poor people in the congregation, persons for whom you should give liberally? Frankly, the Lord blesses us all abundantly so that none of us is without bread, none of us without shelter. What about in Perth; can you think of persons around us who are so destitute that we need to give abundantly for them? We know: there may be the odd address, but in the big scheme of things, no one in our city is really poor, starving.
But the picture is different when we cast our eye overseas. The world has become a village, the poor pictured in the media have become our neighbors. And theyíre there by the millions upon millions, adults and children who havenít had a decent meal in days, possibly weeks, even months. Meanwhile, our western society is heavily materialistic. In connection with the September 11 attack I read somewhere that one of the causes for hatred against the western world is its greediness; the western world strips forests and denudes countries of mineral wealth simply to maintain our standard of living Ė and meanwhile we return little to these third world countries. I cannot judge the matter conclusively, but I can accept that there may be more than a spot of truth in the charge.
What shall we do, then, with the extra $50 in our pocket? Pour it into the car and burn a tank of petrol for the sake of cruising? Buy another shirt because it looks nice? Or might that actually be "abuse and squandering" of Godís gifts? Might it be the Lordís will that we Ėwho by international standards are rich, very rich- might it be the Lordís will that we give not to the neighbor in Australia (whoís virtually as well off as we are), but give instead to the neighbor in Africa or Afghanistan? As we confess in our Lordís Day that the Lord "forbids all greed and all abuse or squandering of His gifts", need we conclude that God would have us drop our standard of living, instead of seeking to raise it?
Our Lord was rich in heaven with the glory of the Father. He gave it away, in order that we might be rich. So there is forgiveness of our sins, sins also against the eighth commandment. The Christ who has returned to heaven has given us His Holy Spirit to guide us into all the truth, to guide us also in the application of the eighth commandment in our modern world. The Spirit has given us His Word as a lamp for our feet. And the Word sets before us the command to give, to share, and to do so generously.
"Blessed are the merciful," our Lord said, "for they shall obtain mercy" (Mt 5:7). Amen.